In radically remaking the Pistons roster in his first year on the job, Troy Weaver used every tool in a general manager’s arsenal – trades, free agency, the draft, the waiver wire, two-way contracts, 10-day deals.
Nowhere was the bet on himself bigger than the maneuvering he did to get two additional first-round draft picks at 16 and 19. And that’s what those deals were more than anything else – the belief that Weaver would be able to find two players at a spot in the draft where, historically, you’re lucky to bat .500 if the bar is set at “finding a useful rotational piece” and significantly lower than that if the standard is long-term starter or better.
It’s too soon to say what the ceilings are for Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, but it’s safe to say they’re already established a floor as solid rotational pieces. In a redraft, it seems certain both would be top-10 picks after first seasons that put them in the mix for NBA All-Rookie honors.
Beyond what Stewart and Bey themselves mean to Weaver’s restoring-the-Pistons project, the broader implications are cause for even more optimism for the franchise and its fans for what it says about Weaver – about his fearlessness in making neck-on-the-line moves like trading for additional draft picks and about his ability to spot talent in a draft range that’s always hit or miss.
Take a look at what the 16-19 spots in the NBA draft typically yield. It’s too early to draw conclusions about more recent drafts, so start with 2017 when the 16 through 19 picks were Justin Patton, D.J. Wilson, T.J. Leaf and John Collins. Collins is a key contributor on a playoff team, but Patton and Leaf spent most or all of the 2020-21 season out of the NBA and Wilson is hanging on in Houston.
The 2016 group is every bit as spotty with Guerschon Yabusele, Wade Baldwin and Henry Ellenson out of the league save for Ellenson’s late-season cameo with Toronto and Malik Beasley, though dogged by off-court issues, a solid player in Minnesota. Terry Rozier was a successful 16th pick in 2015 but was followed by three players out of the league in Rashad Vaughn, Sam Dekker and Jerian Grant, Jerami Grant’s older brother.
Jusuf Nurkic went 16th and Gary Harris 19th in 2014, but James Young and Tyler Ennis taken between them have washed out. Only Dennis Schroder, the 17th pick in 2013, remains from the 2013 quartet of Lucas Nogueria, Schroder, Shane Larkin and Sergey Karasev drafted 16-19.
And on it goes. The history doesn’t lie. Thing is, you’ll usually find another player or two who were drafted in the 20s that wind up having solid or better careers. And Weaver, who’s been in the NBA nearly two decades, no doubt knew that, too, when he pressed for those extra picks.
The Pistons have another critical draft approaching and they’ll pick no worse than sixth on July 29 with an 80 percent chance at a top-five pick. No matter what happens in the June 22 lottery, know that Weaver isn’t banking on having multiple cracks at a high lottery pick as a fundamental of his restoration blueprint. Weaver scoffed at the notion of a multiyear rebuilding plan when he spoke after being hired last summer. You can bet his full expectation is that he’ll be picking outside the lottery from here on out.
Based on how he beat the odds by reeling in Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey at 16 and 19, the Pistons will still get more than their fair share of players wherever they land in future drafts. The Pistons had a lot of individual success stories in 2020-21 even beyond the four rookies Weaver picked – Jerami Grant more than justifying Weaver’s decision to make him a foundational piece, Josh Jackson turning his career around, Frank Jackson picked up off of waivers and Tyler Cook playing his way onto the roster off of 10-day deals.
All of those things had this in common: Troy Weaver identifying value where others could not. And that’s the takeaway from his first season as general manager that has the most lasting impact for the Pistons future.